AT&T Chief Calls Hiring Michael Cohen as Consultant a 'Big Mistake'

Dwayne Harmon
May 12, 2018

Randall Stephenson, the chief executive officer of AT&T, wrote in a company-wide letter to staff on Friday that the telecom giant made "a serious misjudgment" in its decision to hire President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen as a consultant a year ago.

"Our company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.and our reputation has been damaged", the memo said.

"There is no other way to say it - AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake", the memo said.

The challenge before Quinn became clear during the campaign when Trump began raising objections to AT&T's proposed $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner Inc. - a deal his Justice Department would go on to oppose in a lawsuit that's set to be decided in June.

Essential Consultants paid US$130,000 to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, days before the 2016 presidential election as part of a nondisclosure agreement that barred her from discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.

"The president had no knowledge of it", Rudy Giuliani told HuffPost in an interview.

"Why doesn't the Fake News Media state that the Trump Administration's Anti-Trust Division has been, and is, opposed to the AT&T purchase of Time Warner in a now ongoing Trial", Trump wrote.

Murray's letter calls the company's contract with Cohen an attempt to develop "unvetted and unproductive relationships to try to sway government officials in its favor".

Stephenson said he took responsibility for the Washington team's failure to vet Cohen.

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Novartis said it discovered soon after signing the contract that Cohen could not provide the services he had promised and allowed the contract to expire.

Following Avenatti's release of information on Tuesday, AT&T and Novartis each revealed that the companies had been contacted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office in late 2017 about their respective arrangements with Cohen.

Cohen's payments from companies while acting as a personal lawyer to the president may raise legal issues besides whether the consulting work constituted lobbying.

But Cohen's "lobbying" seemed to be nonexistent, especially since last November the Justice Department sued AT&T to block the bid, citing antitrust concerns.

The internal AT&T documents show that Cohen was supposed to spend half of his time on "legislative policy development" and the other half on "regulatory policy development". But he, and the rest of the company, was surprised by the election results and had few connections to Trump's circles. The group will now report directly to the firm's top in-house lawyer.

Avenatti said he was aware of four months of payments to Cohen totaling $200,000.

At the time it was making the payments, Wyden said, the company was negotiating with FDA over the approval.

It was unclear if Giuliani misspoke, but his comment on its face would validate an argument that AT&T-Time Warner tried to advance before a recent six-week antitrust trial - that they were singled out for antitrust enforcement by the Justice Department because Trump didn't want it. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has said that the "elephant in the room" in the Justice Department's lawsuit is Trump's influence. But there were persistent questions about possible political interference, especially in light of the president's well-publicized disdain for both CNN and attorney general Jeff Sessions. CNN is owned by Time Warner.

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